Player Profile: Marderosian rides ahead of the Volkswagen curve

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While Volkswagen of America was out looking for a marketing director, Karen Marderosian was busy filling the void that was left by her boss, Liz Vanzura, who vacated the post late last year. And while VW did extensive interviews over seven months, including at least one German candidate, Ms. Marderosian carried much of the job's day-to-day load as marketing-advertising manager.

VW named the 32-year-old Detroit-area native marketing director on one of the car industry's hottest brands in July.

"They could see what I had to offer," she said of the past months. During that time, she worked in tandem with Frank Maguire, VP-sales, who added marketing to his title late last year. "It was a good opportunity to work closely with Frank and support him on the marketing side because it was a new role for him."

Ms. Marderosian ended up in the ad business somewhat haphazardly. She had just returned to Michigan after finishing post-graduate work in international commerce in Paris.

"I was researching American companies with operations in Paris," explains the bilingual ad chief, because she wanted to return to France. BCom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles popped up, so she interviewed with its Troy, Mich., office and landed a job.

After six months of rotating through different departments, she landed on the account side and spent most of the next decade on General Motors Corp.'s car accounts. Her last job there, before joining VW in 1999 as a model manager, was brand marketing partner on the Pontiac Bonneville.

Her team developed the "Luxury with attitude" campaign for Bonneville, which helped stop some of the decline in sales of the 10-year-old model that wasn't due for an update for another two years.

"Obviously I think she's really strong, because I brought her into VW," said Ms. Vanzura. Ms. Vanzura, now ad director of GM's Hummer vehicle, met her successor back in her D'Arcy days. Ms. Vanzura was then assistant brand manager of Bonneville. "Karen has really good instincts and for a brand that has to be ahead of the curve, that's a good quality," she said.

Ms. Marderosian has worked on virtually every VW vehicle. Before her prior six-month stint as marketing manager, she was Passat model manager and launched the 2001 version in March. Her first assignment at VW was to develop four TV spots for the overall VW brand, which aired first in March 2000. The campaign touted consultancy J.D. Power & Associates' findings that four of its cars topped consumer appeal rankings, based on owner surveys. One showed a Jetta owner rushing to his car to save it from an out-of-control shopping cart.

She doesn't plan major changes from VW's quirky and much-lauded advertising from Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston. "We are going to have to work to stay ahead of the curve, which has been our philosophy," she said. "We just came off five years of tremendous growth, and while we're still growing, our growth is slowing, so the challenge for us is how to keep the brand moving forward and keep us ahead."

VW's close relationship with Arnold helps keep the brand's ads edgy. "We try to make sure they understand our business issues and they do understand us. We have an open dialogue," she noted.

David Huyett, VP-marketing who retired from VW in late 2000, has faith in his former charge. "She's like the VW customer-young at heart-and she really does understand the brand. She was a good pick."

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